The Hindenburg
Running From Explosion

THE HINDENBURG, which depicted the 1937 ill-fated trip of the German blimp, was a great achievement of Wise's technical mastery. Universal had secured the rights to the book by Michael Mooney since 1972 and had asked Wise if he
Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft

would be interested in adapting it. The story was immediately compelling to Wise:

"...I was fascinated by two things: First the conclusion reached by Mooney...that the Hindenburg was sabatoged by a young anti-Nazi crew member who wanted to destroy this great symbol of the Nazi regime—not intending, of course, for it to blow up with people aboard. Second, I was fascinated by the whole era of lighter-than-air travel. When I read about what it was like to travel in a big airship—what the lifestyle was and how the passengers lived—I became completely captivated."*

Meticulous about details and making sure the story and props were realistic, Wise and his team recreated detailed models of the ship:

"THE HINDENBURG was a very complex film; it was like a huge puzzle: gathering all the pieces together and then finding out how they all went together in the ship and how one piece of the ship related to another and what direction the ship was going., etc. As I was shooting, I referred to my sketchbook constantly, much more than I've ever done before."*

Hinddenbrug Synopsis Colonel Ritter is a dedicated German security officer put on board as the dirigible sails for America, assisted by Nazi partisan Martin Vogel. He suspects crew and passengers alike of potential sabotage and his subtle investigations encompass a host of characters, including a reefer-puffing Countess, card sharps Emilio Pajetta and Major Napier trying to fleece gullible passengers, and Edward Douglas, a nervous American ad executive. Also included are several weird-acting crew members, except the stoic co-captians Pruss and Lehmann. Throughout the rather uneventful voyage Scott probes and pries but has no answers until the Hindenburg is about to dock, finding a bomb at the last minute planted by a crew member who is anti-Nazi and wishes to discredit Hitler's regime. At the landing dock, the craft explodes. Passengers and crew jump for their lives or ride the flaming wreckage to earth to either perish or survive. Ritter dies trying to diffuse the bomb, and Captain Lehman actually steps from the burning skeletal ruins, ostensibly alive, but he takes a few steps (as did the real Captain Lehmann), and falls dead on his face, his entire back burned out.

From The Motion Picture Guide, Vol. IV

Wise Facts
  • Wise shot the disaster scene in black and white because he wanted to intercut it with actual footage of the Hindenburg crashing.
  • From doing research on this project, Wise became one of the world's greatest authorities on lighter-than-air ships.
  • Credits: 125 min. Universal/The Filmakers Group; Distributed by: Universal/The Filmakers Group;  Directed by: Robert Wise;  Produced by: Robert Wise;  Screenplay by: Nelson Gidding;  Edited by: Donn Cambern;  Director of Photography: Robert Surtees;  Music by: David Shire;  Production Design by: Edward Carfagno;  Sound by: Leonard Peterson, Don Sharpless;  Costumes by: Dorothy Jeakins;  Make-up by: Del Acevedo;  Hair by: Lorraine Roberson; 
    Cast  George C. Scott (Colonel Ritter), Anne Bancroft (The Countess), William Atherton (Boerth), Roy Thinnes (Martin Vogel), Gig Young (Edward Douglas), Burgess Meredith (Emilio Pajetta), Charles Durning (Captain Pruss), Richard A. Dysart (Lehmann), Robert Clary (Joe Spah), Rene Auberjonois (Major Napier), Peter Donat (Reed Channing), Alan Oppenheimer (Albert Breslau), Katherine Helmond (Mrs. Mildred Breslau), Joanna Moore (Mrs. Channing), Stephen Elliott (Captain Fellows), Joyce Davis (Eleanore Ritter), Jean Rasey (Valerie Breslau), Ted Gehring (Knorr), Lisa Pera (Freda Halle), Joe di Reda (Schulz), Peter Canon (Ludecke), Charles Macaulay (Kirsch), Rex Holman (Dimmler), Jan Merlin (Speck), Betsy Jones Moreland (Stewardess Imhoff), Colby Chester (Eliot Howell III), Teno Pollick (Frankel), Curt Lowens (Elevator Man Felber), Kip Niven (Lt. Truscott), Michael Richardson (Rigger Neuhaus), Herbert Nelson (Dr. Eckener), Scott Walker (Gestapo Major), Greg Mullavey (Morrison), Val Bisoglio (Lt. Lombardi), Simon Scott (Luftwaffe General), William Sylvester (Luftwaffe Colonel), David Mauro (Goebbels), Joseph Turkel (Detective Moore), Sandy Ward (Detective Grunberger).

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    1.Filmmakers Newsletter, 1976, p.21
    2.Filmmakers Newsletter, 1976, p.22

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